Draw profits from stalemates
Two draws and a fast start for both West Brom and Aston Villa are included in our Saturday Premier League betting preview.
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Sunderland confirmed the promise they'd shown at Everton with victory over Fulham last weekend and the challenge for Martin O'Neill is to ensure that his side can produce that level of performance at home. So far it's been slim pickings for Black Cats fans with only a Capital One Cup tie against Morecamble producing more than two home goals at the Stadium Of Light, but with four players accounting for Sunderland's last four goals things are looking up. West Brom look a fine side at home under Steve Clarke even if they rode their luck against Chelsea, and the return of Romelu Lukaku gives them options after Shane Long's brave starring role last weekend following the death of a relative. Ultimately I find this really hard to call, with Sunderland having found comfort away from home and West Brom struggling a tad on the road. However, one interesting trend is that the Baggies have scored first in eight of their last nine in all competitions and 10 of 14 this season. Given that Sunderland have still to prove that they can fire at home and that West Brom were 2-0 up inside five minutes here last season, 6/5 looks a more than reasonable price about Sunderland going behind early.
Verdict: Sunderland 1 West Brom 2 (BC)
This might not be as straightforward for Everton as quotes of 4/9 imply, especially considering they've won just one in six in the Premier League and lost to Reading last weekend. However, Goodison Park has been something of a fortress this year and it'll take another huge Norwich effort if they're to become the first side to win there since the start of the season. That being said, victory over Manchester United last weekend was no more than Norwich deserved and they've now won four of their last six in all competitions, drawing the other two. Interestingly, all four wins were at Carrow Road whereas both draws were on the road, and it must be noted that so far this season they've not won away from home. With that in mind it's probably asking a little too much for Chris Hughton's side to add Everton to their list of scalps - one that also contains Arsenal - but I'm more than happy to back the draw here at 7/2. Norwich have drawn five of their Premier League games and Everton five, while both meetings of these sides last season ended all-square. Certainly, from a value perspective this is a standout price and I'll go against the grain and have a small bet on the draw.
Verdict: Everton 1 Norwich 1 (BC)
With all the goings on at Chelsea, it's easy to forget for a moment the pressure Mark Hughes is under as QPR manager. So far this season his side have managed zero wins and their display against Southampton last weekend was frankly woeful, that of a side who haven't the fight for what's ahead. In a strange way, a trip to Manchester United might be good as there's no pressure on them here, although it might not feel like that to Hughes who could find himself out of a job after this game even if it's one nobody expects him to win. As for United, they're by no means flawless and arrive here having lost two in a row for the first time in almost a year. Don't expect it to be three though, as Sir Alex Ferguson's side haven't done that since 2001. To be frank, if QPR play as they did last weekend the result here will depend entirely on how ruthless United are in front of goal, and I can see them running up a score so it's no real surprise that William Hill go just 17/10 that they manage at least four. However, that's not a price I like and with just 10/1 and 18/1 offered about 4-0 and 5-0 wins and Robin van Persie just 11/4 to score two or more, it's clear that the bookies want to keep all things United on side. No bet.
Verdict: Manchester United 4 QPR 0 (BC)
Everything we've come to know about these consistent Premier League sides says home win, doesn't it? Fulham don't travel well, Stoke don't lose many at home, Fulham lost at home last weekend and Stoke managed a rare away point at West Ham. Well, sometimes obvious is good and to be honest I'm struggling to see past a home win. Fulham are a good side to watch and of course managed a 3-3 draw at Arsenal just a fortnight ago, but that like-for-like game was much more to their flamboyant tastes than a grind at the Britannia. Stoke have won three of the last four meetings of the sides here and their sole failure in that run was just two days after an energy-sapping trip to Blackburn, while this season's home form shows draws with Arsenal, Sunderland and Manchester City plus victories over Swansea and QPR. Throw in the fact that influential Fulham centre-back Brede Hangeland misses this game and Stoke will be relishing the chance to get at Fulham, whose lack of steel could be the deciding factor here. However, instead of taking short prices about a home win I'll back Stoke to win to nil at 14/5. Stoke have four clean sheets in five home games, with a solitary Manchester City goal in their against column. That's a superb record and although Fulham have scored nine in their last four away, they've been against far more generous defences.
Verdict: Stoke 1 Fulham 0 (BC)
Reading head to Wigan this weekend on the back of a morale-boosting first Premier League victory of the season and will fancy their chances of getting another positive result against a side just one place above them in the lower reaches of the table. Adam Le Fondre scored twice as the Royals came from behind to secure a 2-1 victory over high-flying Everton at the Madejski Stadium last Saturday which not only lifted them out of the relegation zone but also relieved some of the pressure building on manager Brian McDermott. Reports had suggested Dick Advocaat was being lined up to replace McDermott but owner Anton Zingarevich insists he has full faith in the 51-year-old, who can now focus on the trip to the DW Stadium with his mind a little more at ease. Although Reading found themselves lying in 18th position without a win after 10 games, they were at least proving tough to beat having drawn six times and losing narrowly to Chelsea, Liverpool and high-flying West Brom. That's why I see value in backing them to add another point to their tally against the Latics, who are short of confidence after back-to-back defeats against West Brom and Liverpool. Roberto Martinez's men also have a poor home record with just one win and two draws from six outings so it would take a brave punter to wade in heavily at a best of 10/11. The 11/4 about the draw with BetVictor is much more appealing to me and I think it's worth you snapping up too.
Verdict: Wigan 1 Reading 1 (CH)
It's hard to know what to make of Aston Villa after back-to-back defeats to the top two, but it's probably best to judge them on home form and only Everton and Manchester United have come away from Villa Park with maximum points. However, it's been a very happy hunting ground for Arsenal, who haven't lost this fixture since squandering a 2-0 lead almost 15 years ago, and Wednesday's Champions League win has them back on track coming as it did on the back of a 5-2 thumping of Spurs. That being said, I wasn't overly impressed with them against a poor Montpellier outfit and there was obviously more to the North London derby than the scoreline suggests. Ultimately, I'm not confident enough to back either side at the prices and it might be that goalscorer markets offer the best value. Olivier Giroud has really impressed of late and is a worthy 5/1 favourite to open the scoring, especially if Theo Walcott fails to recover from a slight knock. Better value though is Christian Benteke at 9/1, as I expect him to prove a real handful for the shaky Arsenal defence. Given that Villa have scored first in their last two home games and Arsenal have gone behind in their last four Premier League away games, Benteke looks value to open the scoring before Arsenal perhaps run out winners.
Aston Villa 1 Arsenal 3 (BC)